Restoration of the painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz

Restoration of the painting "Farewell to St Peter and St Paul" from the church of St Peter and St Paul in Antakalnis in Vilnius

By POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Church of St Peter and St Paul in Vilnius (1672/1684) by Jan Zaor/Giovanni Battista FredianiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The church

The church of St Peter and St Paul was founded in the middle of the 17th century by Michał Kazimierz Pac - the great Lithuanian hetman and the greatest magnate of that time. The founder himself, as he wished, was buried at the threshold of the temple, and the sentence Hic Jacet Pecator [The Sinner Lies Here] was forged on the stone floor of the church.

Church of St Peter and St Paul in Vilnius, interior, Jan Zaor/Giovanni Battista Frediani, 1672/1684, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Church of St Peter and St Paul in Vilnius, ceiling frescoes, Martino Altomonte/ Michelangelo Palloni, 1672/1684, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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The church was built between 1668 and 1675. The first architect was Jan Zaor from Krakow, and later works were conducted by Italian Giovanni Battista Frediani.  Illusionistic painting compositions on the vault were made by Michelangelo Palloni or Martin Altomonte. Stucco sculptures covering almost the entire surface of the temple walls were made by Pietro Peretti and Giovanni Galli from Italy.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The artist

Franciszek Smuglewicz (1745-1807) was the son of the painter Łukasz Smugleiwcz. He began studying painting with his father and uncle - an outstanding painter Szymon Czechowicz.

Biblical scene (1784) by Franciszek SmuglewiczOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

He studied in Rome at the Academy of St. Lucas, where, during his studies, he received an award and a royal scholarship from Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowski. Smuglewicz spent 20 years in Rome, creating portraits of aristocratic tourists in the Eternal City. He also painted historical and biblical compositions and copies of masterpieces by old masters.

After returning to Warsaw in the 1780s, he ran a painting studio for young artists, and at the end of the 1790s he took over the newly established and at the same time the first in Poland department of drawing and painting at the University of Vilnius. The artists gathered around Smuglewicz in Vilnius created the so-called Vilnius painting school. Franciszek Smuglewicz died in 1807 and was buried in the catacombs at the Rassos Cemetery in Vilnius.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, visible damages (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The restoration

Since its creation, the painting was in the church of St Peter and St Paul in Antakalnis. In the nineteenth century, it underwent two conservation processes. Another happened in the 90s of the twentieth century.

Before restoration, its state of preservation is assessed as poor, requiring emergency intervention, which should prevent irreversible damage to the work of art. The cause of the damage and poor preservation of the painting layer was the strong reaction of the canvas to changes in temperature and humidity inside the church.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, visible damages (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Due to the cyclical tightening and loosening, the canvas bulges, causing damages to the layers of paints. Layers of ground, paint and varnish cracks, crumbles and detaches from the canvas itself.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, detail during restoration works (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad


The paint layer, i.e. the chalk-glue primer placed directly on the canvas and the layer of oil paints, had numerous defects, with shallower and deeper cracks covering almost the entire surface of the painting. The damage was strongest in the central part of the composition.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, detail of the sufrace (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

It was necessary to stabilize and support the canvas. Moreover, the loom, on which the canvas is stretched, was in poor condition attacked by insects, weakened. The method in which the loom attached to the frame aggravated the problems caused by fluctuations in external conditions. It was necessary to replace the loom to save the painting and keep the paint layers in good condition.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, damaged areas (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The conservators assessed the condition of the canvas as critical. Unevenly stretched on the loom, it caused deformation of the surface. And this, in turn, exacerbates the problem of damage to the painted surface.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, during restoration (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

At the edges of the cracks, the paint layer rose to form scales that detached from the substrate. Retouches made during previous works were discoloured. Together with the old layers of yellowed varnishes, with numerous stains, they changed the appearance and artistic value of the painting.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, restoration, Franciszek Smuglewicz, 1804, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, preparation for transport, Franciszek Smuglewicz, 1804, From the collection of: POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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The conservation works in 2019 aimed to stop the processes causing damage to the painting, restore the technical properties of the loom and binding, and restore the artistic value of the composition. It was also necessary to protect it against future damage resulting from the passage of time. Before transportation of the painting to the studio, it was secured in the most sensitive places, cleaned of dirt, dust and organic impurities with a brush and a vacuum cleaner. Then, after removing the canvas from the loom, it was rolled and transported to the conservation workshop, where work continued.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, detail before restoration (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The next stage of work began with chemical protection with fungicides and anti-mould preparations. Then, pressing the surface of the paint was carried out.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, process of restoration (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The secondary layers of varnish and paint from previous restorations were removed.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, painting druing restoration (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

After applying the retouching varnish, the composition was reconstructed in the areas of the defects, retouching and colour merging were done.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, back side (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Finally, the painting was fixed on a new, self-stretching loom that adjusts to the changes in the stresses of the canvas caused by temperature and humidity fluctuations, keeping the canvas under constant and equal tension.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul, returning of the painting after restoration (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The work was carried out between August 15 and November 28, 2019, by the company "Croaton" Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art. Works were commissioned by the National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad POLONIKA.

Farewell of St Peter and St Paul (1804) by Franciszek SmuglewiczPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Painting "Farewell of St Peter and St Paul" after the restoraion works.

Church of St Peter and St Paul in Vilnius, interior (1672/1684) by Giovanni Pietro Perti and Giovanni Maria GalliPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Credits: Story

Text and edition: Anna Ekielska
Photos: ©  „Croaton” Konserwacja i Restauracja Dzieł Sztuki spółka z o.o., © Instytut POLONIKA


© Narodowy Instytut Polskiego Dziedzictwa Kulturowego za Granicą POLONIKA and authiors

 National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad POLONIKA
Supervisory institution: Ministerstwo Kultury, Dziedzictwa Narodowego i Sportu RP

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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